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 Review archive:  # a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Christina Kubisch and Eckehard Güther - Unter Grund [Gruenrekorder - 2015]

Unter Grund is a two part composition originally produced as a sound installation for the NOW / Parallele Welten festival in 2014 at the Zollverein coal mining site near Gelsenkirchen. The choice of location was apt as the material which makes up this recording is principally derived from underground sources involving mines, pumping stations and other machinic locations associated with the Ruhr area which have some connection to water.

The liner notes describe Kubisch's work as being about "alternative ways of perceiving and accessing correlations" and "autonomously provided ways of experience and unofficial versions of reality". The choice of source material brings together historical themes of technological progress and the costs to the environment but also more socially minded reflections on the lives of miners "competing with the bowels of the earth".

The first part is the longest at nearly twenty four minutes and starts with regular splashes seemingly from a pumping system of sorts. We quickly depart from this more recognisable sound as Kubisch and sound engineer Eckehard Güther's hydrophones descend into the water picking up all manner of low drones and far away industrial noises. Contact microphones are also liberally deployed picking up characteristically uncanny sounds in the intimacy of their locations. I find there is always something a little claustrophobic in the sounds picked up by contact mics; the little clicks and rubs which are amplified as if they were occurring right next to your eardrum. The Ruhr area has apparently sagged more than twenty meters over the last 150 years as a result of the mining activity and subsequent flooding by ascending ground water. Indeed it is these pumps recorded by Kubisch which are keeping the area from turning into a vast swamp. These recordings - as the artist appears to intend - open up a secret world beneath the earth, one which harks back to the birth of Germany as Europe's industrial power house, but it is clear by the fact of the pumping and draining system's constant operation that "progress" has come at a high price.

Later in the piece almost pastoral trickles and flows of water are rudely interrupted by what could be the sound of a giant washing machine clicking into a spin cycle but what is probably a centrifugal pump deep beneath the earth.

The second shorter piece begins with more delightful close recordings of quiet sounds. Even some insects and frogs seem to get in on the act providing a nice counterpoint to the strange whirring slurping and rhythmic movements of water. This piece which is titled Vision is a lot brighter than the title piece, with less drone and more air so to speak. Perhaps as the title suggest these sources are above ground within the field of vision. Whatever the sources the two pieces together complement each other nicely and achieve well the artist's aim of offering up to the listener's imagination the unheralded vibrancy of these lesser known realities.

This is the second recording I have heard from the Gruenrekorder label after last year's hugely impressive Landscapes of Fear compilation. They are building a solid reputation as a label with a well tuned ear for the best in contemporary phonography and sound art.

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Duncan Simpson
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